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December 23, 2018 10:32 am

Israeli Military Chief: US Withdrawal From Syria a ‘Significant Event,’ but ‘No Need to Overstate It’

avatar by Barney Breen-Portnoy

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, June 20, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Amir Cohen.

The head of the Israeli military on Sunday called the withdrawal of US troops from Syria a “significant event,” but added there was “no need to overstate it.”

Speaking at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot remarked publicly for the first time on US President Donald Trump’s controversial pullout move, which was announced via Twitter on Wednesday and led to the resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis.

“The IDF has operated independently [in Syria] for years,” Eizenkot said. “Such has been the case the past four years, with the American and Russian presence.”

Trump’s decision to bring home the over 2,000 soldiers who had been working in northeastern Syria with an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias in areas once held by ISIS drew a lukewarm response from Israel, which is concerned about Iran’s activities in its war-torn neighbor to the northeast.

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A top IDF goal in recent years, Eizenkot noted, has been to thwart Iran’s efforts to export weapons to its regional proxies — including Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which, along with Russia and Iran, has deployed forces in Syria to bolster the Assad regime.

The Israeli military invested “enormous” resources in this mission, Eizenkot — whose nearly four-year term as chief of staff will end next month — said, and had succeeded in preventing Iran from realizing its plans. But, he warned, the regime’s “desire and vision” remained in place.

At a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “The decision to withdraw 2,000 US troops from Syria will not change our consistent policy — we will continue to act against Iran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily in Syria, and to the extent necessary, we will even expand our actions there.”

The Israeli leader went on to say that his country’s cooperation with the US would “continue in full and finds expression in many areas — operations, intelligence and many other security spheres.”

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